The Stand

Lifting stay-home orders too soon is an attack on workers

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The same right-wing groups that oppose unions are backing ‘reopen’ protests

 

By PETER STARZYNSKI


(May 1, 2020) — We are living in unprecedented times. Businesses shuttered, employees furloughed, anxious families sheltering at home, while a virus we know little about has claimed the lives of more Americans than the Vietnam War did. While we all yearn for a return to normalcy, it’s crucial to understand that opening up states too soon puts the health and safety of frontline workers and their families at risk. And these workers have already suffered so much under punishing circumstances.

While it’s disturbing, it’s not shocking that the so-called “reopen” protests we’ve been hearing about are being supported by a network of billionaire-funded front groups who have no regard for the rights and safety of working people.

 

The protests around the country harassing their (usually Democratic) governors to “open up the economy” are not the grassroots movements they’d have you believe. The protest in Idaho was planned by an anti-worker group called the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and here in Washington, an employee of the anti-worker “Freedom” Foundation has planned anti-quarantine protests. In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Foundation secretly allowed protest organizers to use their building.

These groups are all part of the Koch-funded State Policy Network who once made it their mission to “defund and defang” America’s unions. As the Center for Media and Democracy reports, “the movement is being coordinated and financed, at least in part, by big-money right-wing interests, including some of the same forces that sparked the Tea Party in 2009.”

First responders have not been allowed the safety of staying home. Police, firefighters and EMTs are still out responding to crises and saving lives. Sometimes it ends in tragedy, as with a 5-year-old daughter of a firefighter and a nurse who died of complications from COVID-19.

Healthcare workers like nurses and homecare workers are still serving the most vulnerable Americans and struggling with shortages of personal protective equipment.

Grocery store workers and delivery drivers have stepped up to keep our families fed. They interact with hundreds of people daily, putting them squarely into the danger zone for infection. A Portland, Ore., Whole Foods employee died of COVID-19 just last week.

This is the new normal for first responders, healthcare workers and grocery workers while the rest of us stay home. In many states we are flattening the curve and taking proper precautions, but we can’t stop now.

The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, recently said, “A rush to reopen without protections for workers will lead to an explosion of the disease, many more deaths and another shutdown.”

Pushing to re-open prematurely would be an unthinkable assault on these brave workers, and could threaten the welfare of everyone in our state.


Peter Starzynski is Director of the Northwest Accountability Project, a union-backed non-profit that aims to expose moneyed special interests that are trying to bring an anti-union agenda to Washington and Oregon.

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